Are you a grasshopper or a weed hopper? A subscriber recently chided me for succumbing to that which I deride the very most, the dreaded groupthink. So ubiquitous is the consensus on the economic outlook for 2018, I’d been swept away on a wave of conforming concordance. What followed was, “You surprise me weed hopper.”
In the spirit of discovery, I must admit to being a bit mystified. I was familiar with ancient Asian teachings that raise the grasshopper to esteemed status. To wit, grasshoppers “overcome obstacles, jump into successful ventures and are forward thinkers. A grasshopper’s nature is stable, vibrant, content, intuitive, patient, peaceful, creative, insightful, connected, courageous, resourceful, and much more.”
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A weed hopper, on the other hand, references one who is new to the scene to the art of smoking weed or a small aircraft which uses tricycle landing gear and a tubular-frame fuselage. True confessions, the scent of marijuana is all that’s needed to induce a wave of nausea for this one. And I’m a bad flier.
But maybe that was the point. Perhaps I needed to be reminded of the importance of nuance. Had I just accepted “weed hopper” as a synonym for “grasshopper,” wouldn’t that have proven the point that I’d stopped discerning and begun to take others’ thoughts as my own?
And then there’s the very source of groupthink, the Federal Reserve, though we can hope the times, they are a changing. For the here and now, a veteran and voter on this year’s Federal Open Market Committee continues to voice concerns over worryingly low inflation. That’s what happens when you suffer from the worst form of myopia that keeps you focused on a failed inflation gauge. What this unnamed Fed official should have said was what a fellow grasshopper, Dr. Gates, pointed out in reaction to this inside-the-box thinking: “What the Fed should be concerned about is tightening the economy into a recession because the cost to buy what we must (non-discretionary) is rising at an appreciably faster pace than the cost to splurge on what we covet (discretionary).”
Price pressures for necessities are running too hot, not too cold. That applies to companies and households alike, by the way. Pick your poison – a margin squeeze or further strain on household budgets.
In the meantime, rampant commodity inflation continues to pressure yields upwards. As if the bloodletting needed reinforcements, this week’s bond market rout has intensified care of the two largest foreign holders of Treasuries. The Bank of Japan appears to be, denials notwithstanding, tapering its quantitative easing (mechanics matter). And China is making rumblings about the reduced attractiveness of holding our sovereign bonds with the added punctuation point that the risk of a trade war gives them more license to pull back.
And so, the two-year/ten-year Treasury spread gaps out by 10 basis points and there’s Bill Gross and his bond market peers of the world who angst (talk their books) about the end to the glorious bond market mega-run that’s been around for most of our careers.
Are you surprised the stock market is taking all of this in stride? If you answered in the affirmative, all I can say is, “You surprise me weed hopper.” In the meantime, in the real economy, it’s full steam ahead, something the Fed will follow, come what may. For more on the economy’s prospects this year and beyond, please enjoy this week’s installment “The Great Recovery: Unambiguous Clarity Over the Horizon.”
With hopes you are a grasshopper, and wishing you well,